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Final Grades: Breaking Down Trayce Jackson-Davis' 2022 Season With Indiana

Indiana went from 12 wins to 21 in the 2021-22 season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. Junior center Trayce Jackson-Davis was a big reason why, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots again. Here is our first report card, breaking down his season and doling out a final grade.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana's college basketball fortunes turned around in the 2021-22 season, and a big reason why stemmed from a short meeting in early April between new coach Mike Woodson and star center Trayce Jackson-Davis. Woodson wanted him to wait on his NBA aspirations and spend another year getting better. In a matter of minutes, Jackson-Davis said yes.

It worked. Jackson-Davis, a 6-foot-9 left-hander from Greenwood, Ind., was already pretty good. He had led the Hoosiers in scoring his first two years, and did the same this season, averaging 18.3 points per game. He now has 1,588 career points, which is good for No. 15 all-time in the Indiana school scoring list.

He showed improvement and added a lot to his game, especially on the defensive end. He was, without question, Indiana's best player and he had a big finish to the season after a February slump. He made a lot of memorable moments, like scoring 43 points against Marshall in November, the most points scored in a game in the 50-year history of Assembly Hall. It was the 10th-highest scoring performance in school history.

He scored 20 points or more 12 times, and topped 30 four times. He had 10 double-doubles, and 81 blocked shots, far more than the 38 he had a year.

There were a lot of steps in the right direction for Jackson-Davis, and a lot of memorable moments. There were some down moments too, but the March bounce-back from them was throughly enjoyable.

Here's a breakdown of his season, what I liked and didn't like, his best game and future prospects and – of course – his final grade.

There's also a terrific video chat with video director Haley Jordan, so check that out as well.

Trayce Jackson-Davis by the numbers

  • Games played: 35 of 35
  • Games started: 35 of 35
  • Average minutes: 32.3 (first on team)
  • Points per game: 18.3 (first on team)
  • Rebounds per game: 8.1 (first on team)
  • Assists per game: 1.9 (second on team)
  • Steals per game: 0.6 (fifth on team)
  • Blocks per game: 2.3 (first on team)
  • Field goal percentage: 58.9 (246-for-418)
  • 3-point percentage: 0.0 (0-for-3)
  • Free throw percentage: 67.4 (147-for-214)

What I liked

There was a lot to like about Jackson-Davis' junior season at Indiana, starting with the fact that it even happened at all. He played for Archie Miller for two years, and posted some numbers but didn't win a lot of games. He didn't look happy.

Deciding to stick around and play for Woodson was a big deal, because it gave Indiana a chance to be good. And they were. Not great, but good. And Jackson-Davis was the big reason why they were good. Not great, but very good. 

Going from 12 wins to 21 was special. He had huge games in several big wins, the 43 against Marshall, the 27 in a big home win against Ohio State, the 23 to break a long road losing streak at Nebraska and a Big Ten Tournament run for the ages, where he had 24 and 21 points in upset wins over Michigan and Illinois, and 31 in the heartbreaking semifinals loss to Iowa. He had 29 points in Indiana's NCAA Tournament win over Wyoming, the school's first tourney win since 2016.

Even in a few losses, he had big games, 31 at Syracuse, 30 in a tough home loss to Wisconsin that slipped away. The 31 against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament was crazy impressive, only to be upstaged by Jordan Bohannon's stupid half-court heave at the buzzer to win.

Jackson-Davis' goal was to come back and play in big games at Indiana, and he did just that in March. He benefited a great deal from playing for Woodson and his staff. He added a lot to his game, becoming a terrific interior defender and shot-blocker and adding more post moves, especially to his right, and more spin moves and aggressive drives to the hoop, even with his right hand.

What doesn't show up on the stat sheet is his growth as a leader on this team. He interacted so well all year, with both teammates and coaches. He and best friend Race Thompson played off of each other well in the paint. He kept pushing and nurturing the young players, and was a mentor to them as well.

There were moments, big and small, that resonated throughout the year. He became a great leader. I won't forget him saddling up to Khristian Lander during the guard's postgame interview at Maryland and putting his arm around his shoulders as Lander answered questions. Jackson-Davis never said a word, just held on to his teammate and smiled, like a good big brother. That moment meant the world to Lander.

He did a lot of good things, on and off the floor.

But it wasn't perfect, not by any means. There are still gaps in his game, and there was a bad stretch in February that took some of the shine off of his season. 

What I didn't like

During Indiana's swoon in February, where they went 2-7 in a tough nine-game stretch and lost give games in a row at one point, Jackson-Davis struggled mightily on his own. In four of the losses, he was just 15-for-44 from the field, a mere 34 percent.

He also tended to be a non-factor late in games, and when I put all the end-of-game numbers together for a story, it was stunning how little he got done late in games. Defenses had something to do with that, because he got double-teamed often, but he also deferred to teammates too often, and many times they let him down with poor perimeter play.

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But he also missed a lot of in-close shots, and admitted he was slumping and in a funk in February. When he couldn't make shots through traffic at the rim — I so wish he would learn to use the backboard more — he didn't have other options in his game. No mid-range jumper, no three-point threat to spread out a defense. There were limits to his repertoire, for sure.

He was a center, a post player and not much else, which is why I call him a center instead of a forward in this story. A few days after the story on his end-of-game struggles, I also wrote a column questioning whether Mike Woodson had let him down by not adding that perimeter option to his mix. Woodson said he makes those mid-range jumpers in practice, but Jackson-Davis said playing inside was what Woodson wanted. There was a little disconnect there, despite all the growth they had as a duo.

The good far outweighed the bad, of course, but he certainly left us wishing for more this season.

Best game

There are a lot of ''best games'' to choose from for Jackson-Davis this season. He was that good. There were many moments when he was simply unstoppable, especially when teams thought they could get by with single coverage on him. No one can guard him one-on-one consistently.

It's hard to not choose the Nov. 27 Marshall game, when he set an Assembly Hall scoring record with 43 points. In the iconic 50-year history of that building, no one had ever done that before. There were many other great moments, but for me, one really stands out.

And his ''best game'' was really a ''best half,'' because what he did against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament was classic. Indiana's postseason life was on the line in the 8-9 game in the second round, and the Hoosiers were down 17 points. But led by Jackson-Davis, they went on a 28-4 run and got a huge victory to keep their season alive. He had 12 points in the run, plus several blocks shots. 

It was his best moment because it mattered the most. Indiana doesn't play in the NCAA Tournament without this win and, as it turned out, its win the next day against No. 1 seed Illinois. Jackson-Davis was great then, too, as he was in the semifinal loss to Iowa. 

That postseason stardom solidified his greatness on a big stage. It made the postseason run of a week-plus crazy enjoyable. That half, though, it was career-defining for sure, because it made those earlier late-game struggles moot.

Future prospects

Well, this is a the great unknown right now. Jackson-Davis has entered his name into the 2022 NBA Draft process, but he has until June 1 to withdraw and return to college. He has said he wants to get all the information he can during this process where he can interview and work out for teams, but there is still a chance that he returns to Indiana.

Personally, I think there's a good chance that still happens, coming back to Bloomington. He really enjoyed playing for Woodson last year, and he loves his teammates. With a top-five recruiting class coming in, should Jackson-Davis return, Indiana just might be Big Ten favorites. Jackson-Davis, a native Hoosier, would love to have a Big Ten title on his resume.

It only takes one NBA team to like him, not 30, so we'll see how it all plays out. He added a lot to his game this year, and he can add more. For selfish reasons, I'd love to see him come back because it would make Indiana so much better. He's also a joy to watch and a pleasure to work with. He's a great interview, always honest and forthright with his answers, and a good kid to be around.

We'll know soon enough. 

Final Grade: A-minus

A-minus: This is the first of 14 report cards, and on almost all of them, it was tough to come up with a final grade, bouncing back and forth between a range of grades.

It's no different with Trayce. He did a lot of wonderful things this year and there is no denying that he's a terrific player. Indiana's best, for sure. I vacillated between an A-minus as a B-plus for several reasons. The February swoon, certainly, was an issue. The lack of impact late in games was, too.

But facts are facts, and he had a lot of great games. In most of the games where his numbers were low, it was because of constant double teams and, let's be frank, his own teammates let him down by not making perimeter shots.

I watched him score 43 points at Assembly Hall and I've been watching games there since the building opened. No one has EVER done that before. I watched him be THE BEST PLAYER in the Big Ten Tournament for three straight days. I watched him score 29 points in an NCAA Tournament game, the first one for the Indiana program since 2016.

When I think like a teacher sometimes, I give the benefit of the doubt when a grade is on the cusp. Trayce gets extra credit for being a great teammate, a great leader and a great representative of this program and this university. 

So he get's the A-minus and yes, heck yes, I hope he's back for another year to do even more.

NEXT UP: Indiana senior forward Race Thompson.

Trayce Jackson Davis: Photos throughout the season